Mister Monkey correctly pointed out that if you're going to write a book about SPIES who are also ACTORS, then you have to have them both SPY and ACT somewhere at the beginning of the book, rather than just talk about it. He came up with the great plan of having them start with ACTING in a film, and then, after a day's shooting, head off to do some SPYING. This is what I have now done, and I am so stupidly pleased with the new and improved first section of the book that I am putting it here:
Somewhere off the coast of Chile, a ship of His Majesty’s fleet bobbed like a cork on the sea. Had there been any qualified observers, they would have noted that it was beam on to the swell, and that at any moment, if it did not right itself, the slightest change in the weather could have it over, sails flopping in the water like washing in a puddle.
The captain of the ship was all too aware of his predicament, but at just this moment he had not the luxury of doing anything about it, for he was trying very hard not to be stabbed in the neck. A vicious prisoners’ mutiny was underway, led by a hellion they had picked up in Chile and were bringing back to England to undergo a show trial which, it was hoped, would put women everywhere off following her example. The woman in question, it turned out, knew how to take a hostage, and knew how to climb. She also knew how to inspire her followers, and as the captain fended off his assailant with some considerable skill, he saw her shrug the outer layers of her garments and proceed to swing herself aloft.
“Mister Bragg!” he shouted for his first lieutenant, finally managing to unbalance the mercenary who had been lunging at him and deliver a sharp stab to his upper thigh which would lay him out but hopefully not kill him before the doctor could get to him. His first lieutenant looked up at the rigging to see the young woman slithering up it as lithe as a leopard. Both men sprinted for the ropes and began to follow her. The captain gained on her after very little time, for he was an athletic sort, much given to races with his subordinates on feast days when there was time for sport. Fast though she was, the young woman could not outclimb him, and she realised it as she drew closer to the maintop. She left off climbing and shinnied out to the end of the yard, wrapping her hand and foot in the clewlines and turning to face the captain with a brandished short sword, a flashing smile, and panting breath.
“Give this up,” the captain said. “Your fellow prisoners have made a sorry show of things below, and there is nowhere to go.”
She cursed him.
Somewhere below them, the captain’s crew had regained control of the wayward vessel and turned her to run before the freshening wind. The sails began to belly out, and the captain and the woman found the rigging a lot livelier, and their movements more greatly hampered than before. The ship began to move. The captain was now on firmer ground than the woman, as the whole structure they stood on began to sway and pitch with the roll of the ship. The woman looked less sure of what she was doing. She looked anxiously at the deck below.
“They’ll kill me,” she said eventually. “You know they will.”
“It’s no more than you deserve,” the captain said. “You killed twelve people.”
“They started it,” she argued. “They came after me first. I was minding my own business. I was a missionary, and they came after me. God abandoned me, so I’ve abandoned him and his laws.”
The captain’s feet edged ever so slightly closer to her, and the blade came up again between them.
“I’m not a judge,” he said.
“You could plead for me,” she said.
“After what you have done here?” he said. “You did things nobody should do.”
Her face took on a wild look. She dropped the blade. “And them?” she asked. “They did things to me that nobody should ever do.”
“I know it,” he answered. “And god help you, they have made you mad.”
“Mad is right, captain,” she said with a wild sob. She turned from him and without warning, launched herself from the end of the yard toward the glittering sea. She seemed to fly, and at least had the good sense to jump out as far as she could.
The captain barely had time to understand what she had done before he had followed her. They hit the water within a split second of each other with an ungodly smack. The captain could swim well, however, as was part of his competitive nature, and he pulled himself to the surface like a seal and immediately began to search for her. From the ship he heard a cry of “there, cap’n, she’s behind you!” in among the frantic ringing of bells and cries of “Cap’n overboard!”
He allowed himself a second of relief that she had survived, and struck out after her. Even here, even after everything that had happened, she still fought him. As he came up beside her she kicked out at him. As he pulled himself up along her clothing, hand over hand towards her head, she lashed at him while struggling to stay afloat. She was not as strong a swimmer as he, and she was already starting to tire.
“You are a fool,” he said. “You could have been killed.”
“So could you,” she said.
They bobbed for a moment in the ocean and the captain looked back to see the men lower the jolly boat and pull towards their position. In a last, desperate bid to be free, she kissed the captain. “Please don’t let them kill me, Edward,” she pleaded.
To her immense surprise, he passionately returned her kiss, holding her head with one hand even while he held them both afloat with the other. “They will not have you,” he said, “not while I am alive to defend you.”
A shout of “CUT!” came from somewhere to their starboard side, and they could hear the sounds of an outboard motor. Archie squinted upwards towards the hot, Mexican sun. “Good this, isn’t it?” he said, continuing to hold on to Molly. As the zodiac buzzed towards them over the sea, they trod water and spread out their arms to the side to enjoy the warm sea. “I can’t believe how clear the water is,” said Molly, looking down.
“Did you remember the plan of the plantation?” Archie asked.
“Yes,” Molly answered, just as the zodiac reached them. “Don’t worry, we’re all packed. You just need to get dressed.”
C'est le fromage, no? But fun.